LC Paper No. CB(1)139/98-99


LegCo Panel on Planning, Lands and Works

Minutes of meeting
held on Thursday, 23 July 1998, at 2:30 pm
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP (Chairman)
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Members absent :

Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP

Public officers attending :

Item IV and V

Mr CHAN Wing-sang
Deputy Secretary for Works (Works Policy)

Item IV

Mr KWONG Hing-ip
Chief Assistant Secretary for Works
(Technical Services)

Assistant Director (Operations & Maintenance)
Drainage Services Department

Mr CHOW Man-tat
Chief Engineering (Land Drainage)
Drainage Services Drainage

Item V

Assistant Secretary for Works
(Works Policy)

Principal Government Geotechnical Engineer
Geotechnical Engineering Office

Government Geotechnical Engineer/Island
Geotechnical Engineering Office

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Mrs Mary TANG,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2

I Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(Paper No. CB(1)57/98-99)

The minutes of the meeting held on 14 July 1998 were confirmed.

II Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2 Members agreed to discuss the following items proposed by the Administration at the next meeting scheduled for 10 September 1998 -

  1. Building Safety Improvement Loan Scheme; and

  2. Control of display of non-commercial publicity material.

3 A member suggested an additional agenda item for the next meeting regarding the alleged foundation problems in 15 building sites which were under investigations. Noting that court proceedings involving one of the sites were underway and that it would be inappropriate to discuss sub-judice matters, members agreed that the discussion should be on the wider context of the monitoring mechanism in respect of piling works in construction sites and that the Administration be asked to provide information on the 15 building sites which would not prejudice the investigations or the court proceedings.

III Information papers issued since last meeting

4 Members noted that no information paper was issued since the last meeting.

IV Flood control and prevention
(Paper No. CB(1)50/98-99(01))

5 The Assistant Director (Operations and Maintenance), Drainage Services Department (AD/DSD) briefly explained the three-level flood prevention strategy, which included long-term structural measures, short-term improvement and management measures, and land use management and legislation. AD/DSD informed members that apart from having varied rainfalls, there were basic differences in the causes of flooding in rural and urban areas. In the New Territories, the rivers were relatively narrow with natural flood storage in low-lying flood plains. The only effective solution to reduce flooding was to widen, deepen or raise the banks of the rivers. In most of the newer urban areas, the drainage systems had met the required standard. There was however a need to bring the drainage systems in old districts up to modern standards. Large scale flood prevention projects were implemented with a view to alleviating flooding problems both in rural and urban areas. These projects would normally take many years to complete because of their scale, the need to resume land, as well as environmental and ecological considerations. AD/DSD stressed that co-ordination was needed particularly during the construction stage of the works projects to avoid exacerbating the flooding problems in other areas. New developments, particularly in the New Territories, must not adversely affect the flooding situation. Drainage impact assessments for major projects and land use planning were carried out to ensure compliance with drainage requirements. In implementing the three-level flood prevention strategy, a comprehensive and integrated approach was essential to achieve modern flood prevention standards for Hong Kong.

6 Referring to the schedule of major flood control projects listed in Tables 1 to 4 of the information paper, the Chairman noted with concern that the completion dates of some of the projects spanned into the next century. He questioned if there was any slippage in these projects.

7 AD/DSD admitted that there had been delay in some of the projects, and that the Administration was trying to make up with the time lost. Slippages were not due to engineering problems. The main constraints in implementing some of the projects rested with the complications in land resumption and the need to address environmental concerns. A fast track approach would have a disruptive impact on traffic and the environment. The Administration had to strike a balance between expediting drainage projects and protecting public interests.

8 A member enquired whether the Village Flood Protection Schemes fell behind the targeted completion date of 1997. AD/DSD clarified that the schemes were scheduled for completion by the end of 1999. To date, 15 of these schemes had been completed while five were at various stages of planning and detailed design. Time was needed to resolve objections raised by villagers in some cases and once agreements were reached, these projects could proceed quickly. AD/DSD emphasized that improvement was progressive and could be seen before the completion dates of the projects. In response to members, the Administration agreed to provide more information on the reasons for delay on major flood control projects since the last briefing in January 1998.

9 A member was concerned about the effectiveness of the flood control projects and queried if flooding could be entirely prevented upon completion of all the projects. The Deputy Secretary for Works (Works Policy) (D S for W) advised that upon completion of all the flood control projects, flooding could be prevented under expected rainfalls. However, flooding in agricultural land in low-lying rural areas could not be entirely prevented even after the completion of flood protection schemes. DS for W confirmed in response to a member that the Drainage Services Department(DSD) would oversee all the engineering aspects of flood control projects to ensure compliance with the required standards.

10 Members sought information on operation of Drainage Impact Assessments (DIAs). DS for W advised that proponents of major infrastructural projects were required to carry out DIAs as part of the project to identify and mitigate any adverse impact to drainage in the area. The requirement applied to both public and private developments and had been proven to be effective in controlling the drainage impact caused by new developments. Following this up, members questioned the legal basis of requiring proponents of infrastructural projects to conduct DIAs. AD/DSD advised that the lease conditions made provision for this, thereby ensuring that the projects would be compatible with land drainage requirements. Members requested and the Administration agreed to confirm in writing.

11 In the light of the projected population size , particularly in North West New Territories where the population was expected to reach 1.43 million by 2011, a member was concerned whether drainage plans had been suitably modified. He considered it important to provide for sufficient capacity in drainage plans to meet future needs. DS for W affirmed that the sewerage master plans were designed to meet the needs of the growing population. Land use planning and engineering studies including drainage impact studies were coordinated to ensure compatibility. AD/DSD supplemented that population growth would only affect the foul water drainage system but would not have effect on the stormwater drainage system. The increase in population in North West New Territories would not pose a problem as the design of drainage plans had already taken this into account. However, there was little scope for altering alignments of the larger channels due to layout constraints.

12 A member pointed out the need for different policy bureaux to co-ordinate and formulate a policy to assist flood victims. He suggested that as in the case of dangerous slopes, flood prone areas should be so designated and priority should be given to rehousing affected residents of these areas. In his view, the formulation of such a policy would not only alleviate the hardship of flood victims but would also expedite the progress of flood control projects. In response, DS for W said that comparatively speaking, the risk posed by dangerous slopes was higher because slope failure would occur within much shorter period of time. There were established policies concerning rehousing of victims of natural disasters which fell within the purview of the Housing Department and the Social Welfare Department. Notwithstanding, the Administration agreed to consider the member's suggestion of taking this matter further.

13 A member opined that despite the near completion of the Kam Tin Main Drainage Channel Project by the end of the year, serious flooding occurred on 24 May 1998. AD/DSD advised that most of the works at the downstream of the Kam Tin Main Drainage Channel had been completed but other works at the upstream were still in progress. These works had significantly reduced the severity of flooding on 24 May 1998. Progressive improvement in flood prevention in Kam Tin and Yuen Long had already been evident.

14 Members noted with concern that flooding on 24 May 1998 was exacerbated by the flood water release from Shenzhen Reservoir. They queried whether the flood water could be diverted to other areas without affecting the New Territories. Representatives of the Administration provided the following sequence of events -

  1. The Administration received notification from the Shenzhen authorities at 10:00 am on 24 May 1998 about release of flood water from Shenzhen Reservoir at 1:00 pm. This was in conformity with the agreed arrangement to give a two-hour notice before discharge of flood water;

  2. However, the rainstorm at Shenzhen worsened considerably and Shenzhen Reservoir started to overflow at 11:30 am;

  3. DSD contacted the Shenzhen authorities to see if the discharge could be deferred but was told that there was no other alternative; and

  4. The Police was alerted and emergency measures were taken. Flood warnings were issued.

15 AD/DSD advised that the flooding incident on 24 May 1998 was unique in that the volume of discharge was considerably higher than was normally the case. In the past, flood water discharge from Shenzhen Reservoir would not cause flooding in the New Territories. Since overflowing water from Shenzhen Reservoir had to be released to Shenzhen River, the ultimate solution to the problem rested with the completion of Stage III of the Shenzhen River Regulation Project in 2004. Consultancies for the project had just been awarded and construction works were expected to commence in 2001.

16 A member pointed out that although there were improvements in some areas of the New Territories, flooding remained a problem in most parts of Yuen Long, San Tin and Lau Fau Shan. He called on the Administration to step up cooperation with the Municipal Councils to implement short-term measures to keep catchpits and gullies clear of rubbish. AD/DSD explained that DSD maintained a high level of inspections. DSD had its own maintenance funds and had all along been co-ordinating with villagers through District Offices in working out measures to alleviate the flooding problem.

17 On the progress of the seven Drainage Master Plans (DMP) studies, AD/DSD reported that a phased programme was being implemented, with priority accorded to areas identified as being prone for flooding. The first DMP study, namely the Yuen Long, Kam Tin, Ngan Tam Mei and Tin Shui Wai DMP study, was substantially completed. Meanwhile, the options for the second study, which covered Northern Hong Kong Island, were being evaluated. The Chief Engineer, Drainage Services Department (CE/DSD) added that the DMP studies would review the condition and performance of the existing stormwater drainage system and would draw up both long-term and short-term measures to upgrade the system to cope with future development needs. Close liaison was being maintained with the Planning Department to ensure compatibility of drainage network with land use planning.

18 Noting that West Kowloon was one of the flooding blackspots, members requested expedition of the West Kowloon Stormwater Drainage Improvement Project. AD/DSD advised that Stages I and II works were scheduled for completion in 2002 and 2004 respectively. The system would be further upgraded under Stage III works to full flood protection standard by 2007. Since the construction works would cause serious disruption to traffic, they had to be done on a progressive basis to avoid increasing the risk of flooding in other areas.

V Slope safety
(LC Paper No CB(1)50/98-99(02) and (03))

19 On the progress of investigation of slopes adjacent to schools, the Principal Government Geotechnical Engineer, Geotechnical Engineering Office (PGGE) advised that based on the information provided by the Education Department on 2,072 schools, 1,965 man-made slopes were identified in the vicinity of schools. Of these, 592 slope features comprising 392 private slopes and 200 government slopes, were found to require rectification works. Investigation works had been completed on 370 private slopes and 233 repair orders had been issued. Detailed investigations on the remaining 22 private slopes would be completed by August 1998. The Geotechnical Engineering Office (GEO) had completed detailed investigations on 139 government slopes and 113 of which were found not in compliance with safety standards. Stabilization works on 28 such slopes had been completed; works on another 22 slopes were in progress; and works on 57 slopes would soon commence. GEO aimed at completing investigation and rectification works on the 200 government slopes by March 1999. In response to members, the Administration agreed to provide the latest information regarding the consideration by the Education Department to provide interest free loans to assist private schools in covering the cost of slope rectification works.

20 Noting that a number of programmes and schemes relating to slopes were underway, the Chairman was concerned about their effectiveness and their dates of completion. In response, PGGE advised that the various programmes mentioned in the information paper were complementary. Upon the completion of the Systematic Identification of Maintenance Responsibility of Slopes (SIMAR) in late 1999, the Administration would consider the feasibility of introducing a mandatory slope safety inspection scheme. In the meantime, the Administration would strengthen public education and information services on private slope maintenance, advise owners to maintain their slopes and upgrade substandard slopes pro-actively instead of waiting until the slopes showed signs of instability. GEO would continue with the current "safety screening" of pre-1977 private slopes and would boost the number of slopes to be screened to 300 per year. By 2010, all high consequence private slopes would be dealt with by safety screening, and the service of Dangerous Hillside orders, maintenance or redevelopment.

21 In response to the Chairman's comment that considerable time was spent on cataloguing of slopes, identifying responsibility for maintenance and safety screening, PGGE stressed that cataloguing and safety screening of 60,000 man-made slopes were time-consuming tasks. Over the past 20 years, only 900 private slopes had been screened. The pace of screening was expedited tremendously as GEO intended to boost the number of private slopes to be screened to 300 per year. Concurrently, the Lands Department, equipped with a team of technical and legal experts, had been tasked with identifying the responsibility of slope maintenance under SIMAR. About 2,000 slopes were dealt with by the team every month, which included resolving disputes over maintenance responsibility.

22 A member enquired about the actions taken by the Administration in the event of non-compliance with statutory repair orders. PGGE advised that where owners failed to comply with these orders, it would be an offence under the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123); and the Building Authority, under the provisions of the Ordinance would carry out the repair works on behalf of the owners and then recover the costs of these works from them. The member requested and the Administration agreed to provide statistics on the number of repair orders issued, the numbers of orders in compliance, and the number of cases where the Building Authority had to carry out repair works on behalf of owners.

23 Members noted that most owners were not aware of the responsibility to maintain slopes which fell within the boundary of their developments. PGGE stated that slope maintenance responsibility was stipulated in the lease of the lot. This could be in the form of hatched black area clause, general maintenance clause, or cutting away clause. Since 1993, the Lands Department had made it a requirement for developers under the Consent Scheme to indicate in the sale brochures whether or not owners were required to maintain the slopes in the vicinity of their developments.

24 As regards manpower and resources requirement for maintenance of government slopes, DS for W advised that the recurrent cost for maintaining the 40,000 government slopes was in the order of $800 to $1,000 million per year. This did not include the cost of 450 staff deployed to undertake the task. An average of $20,000 to $30,000 was required for the annual maintenance of each government slope. A team comprising one engineer and five technical staff could maintain about 500 slopes per year. Already 206 posts had been made available to the departments responsible for maintaining slopes.

25 A member opined that, given the present economic downturn, the Government should take the lead in stimulating the economy by pushing ahead with works projects, particularly those relating to slope maintenance and repairs. In this connection, he suggested that the Government should consider employing monthly-paid staff to undertake slope stabilizing works instead of contracting out these works. This would not only create job opportunities but would also accumulate expertise in the Government. Some members however did not agree with the member's view. DS for W opined that the suggestion, if implemented, would have serious undesirable implications on Government's establishment. He added that the implementation of slope works projects would create employment opportunities in the construction industry, regardless of whether the works were carried out by Government's direct work force or by contractor. The Administration agreed to provide members with a breakdown on the number of government staff deployed to undertake slope maintenance works for the 40,000 government slopes and the estimated number of staff employed by the contracting companies in maintaining government slopes.

26 Regarding rectification works for the 16,000 high consequence slopes, PGGE clarified that high consequence slopes did not mean they were dangerous. They were so classified because of their proximity to major developments, squatters and major roads. Government slopes falling within this category were being upgraded under the Landslip Prevention Programme or through development projects, whereas private slopes were being dealt with by safety screening.

27 On the possibility of issuing prior warning of slope failure to the public, PGGE advised that there was at present no available technology which could accurately predict the occurrence of a landslip. The current practice was to post warning notices in the vicinity of dangerous slopes to alert the public of potential danger. GEO had been maintaining close liaison with the Hong Kong Observatory during heavy rainfalls and would issue landslip warning signals where appropriate.

VI Any other business

There being no other business, the meeting closed at 4:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
25 August 1998